When I was a child, our family celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas--and with both, it was the cultural rather than the religious aspects that we focused on. Now that I'm the grownup, I've instituted the same tradition in our home, and each year we have a christmas tree and a menorah, latkes and sugar cookies, holiday lights and holographic hanukkah glasses to view them.
We don't do it for the presents--each year we've given fewer and fewer. We do it for the sense of tradition, the warmth it brings to the house during a cold season, and the many enjoyable trappings that accompany both holidays.
I'm particularly fond of holiday music, and every December I dig out my extensive collection (it used to involved finding the CDs and/or albums...now it's just reloading the archived mp3s), and start playing it at home and in the office. I've got a pretty eclectic selection of tunes, and I'm particularly fond of the Starbucks holiday mixes. My absolute favorite is a 1998 mix called "Hi-Fidelity Holiday," which starts with a fabulous, barely-recognizable version of Jingle Bells by Esquivel. I've now hooked Weez on it, as well. Feliz Navidad, baby!)
Last night when I got home from a lovely dinner at Weez's house, Gerald was watching a PBS special featuring a holiday concert by the Blind Boys of Alabama. They were doing a rendition of Little Drummer Boy with one of their guests, Michael Franti. I can't remember the last time I was so moved by song, and I immediately purchased it on iTunes, and may also buy their fabulous rendition of Go Tell It On the Mountain featuring Tom Waits, and O Come All Ye Faithful with Me'Shell Ndegéocello. If you get a chance to see the special, I highly recommend it. Far better with the visuals.
This afternoon, we'll head out to Stokoe Farms, which is where we've been getting our trees since we moved to Rochester in 1997. There's a ritual associated with that, too, of course. We have to wander through the rows and rows of trees (usually the Fraser firs, but this year I'm thinking about maybe a Concolor) until one speaks to me. (You can roll your eyes at that...the kids certainly do!) Then Gerald cuts it down, the workers haul it back to the main barn and run it through the needle shaker and baling machines. While Gerald ties it onto the van, the boys and I enjoy the free hot chocolate and cookies, and they climb around in the straw-bale fort. Then it's back home to set up and decorate the tree, enjoy some hot chocolate and a fire at home, and maybe do a little early baking. (My favorite holiday recipe, from Gourmet Magazine, is for these absolutely amazing double chocolate walnut biscotti. They make wonderful gifts--if you can keep yourself from eating them before they're wrapped and given away!)
There's a lot to be said for holiday traditions, and even more to be said for focusing on holiday activities you do together as a family rather than the frantic gift acquisition and exchange process.